June 24, 2014

Invisibility works for superheroes -- not for speakers

How many times have you held yourself back from doing what you wanted to do because you didn't want to rock the boat? How many times have you held yourself back because "That's the way it's always been done?" How many times have you held yourself back for fear of embarrassment or being ostracized?

In high school, did you join the club the "cool kids" were in rather than the one you wanted to join that wasn't so cool?

In college, did you major in your parents' chosen subject instead of what you wanted to learn about?

We're not in high school or college any more, but we still find ourselves looking for approval from others, following others' standards and -- still -- suffering so much from the fear of being different and standing out.

You LOVE those bright red shoes in the store window, but you can't imagine what your husband would say if you bought them. Clown shoes? (Been there.)

You'd like to change your diet and cut out meat, but the manly-men you hang around with give you such a hard time whenever they spot you eating tofu, you don't think you can deal with their crap.

You know your presentations are boring the heck out of your audiences, but change is scary. Doing something different is scary. And holy moly - standing out is REALLY scary. So you keep hiding your true personality. You keep your message and your commentary on the safe side. You keep presenting the same dense PowerPoint bullets, the same crummy animation, or the same tiny unreadable font they see every day and dread sitting through.

I could go on and on. And I bet you could give me ten or a hundred examples of the times you've held yourself back in your life. All the times you didn't do something because you feared being judged and criticized more than you valued your own happiness and fulfillment.

Let me just ask you this: Whose life are you living, anyway? Are you living to please other people or is your life your own?

Maybe this seems a little dramatic, when all I'm going to ask you to do is be bold and courageous with your presentations.

But every time you stand up in front of an audience, it's a chance to change minds.

It's a chance to make an impact.
It's a chance to transform even one person's life.
It's a chance to raise money for your cause.
It's a chance to show your boss that you're a rock star.
It's a chance to show the world that you know what the hell you're talking about and that they need to hear what you have to say.

What your audience wants is to be engaged, to hear something original, to feel motivated and excited and inspired. Your stale old PowerPoint template riddled with logos and 90s clipart just won't cut it -- even if that's exactly what everyone else is presenting.

Want to fit in? Watch out: you'll fit in so well, you'll become invisible. And besides certain superheroes for whom being invisible is a distinct asset, it doesn't work for normal humans who want to get their message out to the world.

Next time you start to get that tingly, excited feeling about your presentation, when your brain starts to flow with ideas, and when you feel like you can't wait to sit down and tell your story, don't let that feeling get away. Go with it! Experiment. Play. Do it! Give the audience a great experience along with great value.

If you don't get that tingly feeling when you think about your next presentation, dig deep. Think about what you love about this topic. Why do you do the work you do? What message is really critical for your audience to hear? If you could just sit down with one person and tell them all about it, what would you say?

Some of the ways I get inspired to get out of my comfortable and conventional mindset when writing or speaking include:

1. Working out

Being out in nature, breathing in oxygen and getting the blood flowing always kickstarts my brain. When I stop trying so hard to think creatively, that's when the ideas kick in.

2. Watching entertainers

As speakers, we have a lot in common with entertainers of all kinds. Whether I'm watching TV, a movie or a concert, I'm constantly inspired by how the best entertainers are so real and comfortable in their own skin, and have their own unique style and way of communicating their message with the audience.

3. Making it about the audience

Whenever I start working on a presentation, I continually ask myself, "What is the audience going to get out of this activity, story, image, analogy, etc.?" This alone will ensure that you're not just making slides for your own benefit (to read as notes) or throwing every single detail about your topic into the presentation at the risk of drowning your audience.

When you constantly keep your audience's interests, engagement and experience at the top of your list of presentation to-dos, you will be more inclined to stay away from the clichéd and the expected.

Find a way to trigger your creativity and originality. Find that spark, that love of your work or topic that you used to have when you couldn't wait to jump out of bed every morning to start your day, and build your presentation around that.

Pretty soon that spark will catch fire, and you won't care who sees it. You'll find yourself on stage, not holding anything back, giving your best presentation yet!

Are you fed up with sitting in presentations that have no energy, no engagement, no love, no soul?

Presentations that are irrelevant, boring, tedious and that suck the life right out of you, like some alien parasite from outer space?

Well, you can't change another speaker, but you can change yourself.

Just like your favorite superhero, you can rescue the audience from the routine and repetitious and save the audience from the stale and stodgy.

You can liberate audiences from those dastardly presentations where speakers just don't care, where they show up like zombies in body but not in spirit, and they haven't got the faintest interest in actually serving their audience.

If you're ready to rise above the status quo and deliver bold and courageous messages, then join me for the Audience Avenger Alliance, a new membership program for speakers -- veterans and newbies -- who are looking for a new and different way to create awesome experiences for their audiences. 


May 30, 2014

My favorite easy conference networking tip

Here's a simple networking tip if you, like me, dread walking into rooms full of strangers. When I'm at a conference by myself, this tip is gold. Take a look. 

May 16, 2014

9 ways to use props for maximum impact in your presentations

I discovered this fun challenge posted by Téa Silvestre Godfrey on Facebook, to use one of these 50 bizarre stock photos to inspire a blog post title. I couldn't resist. And then I decided to go a step further and actually write the blog post inspired by the image! Thank you, woman with watermelon and gun!

Props can add humor to a presentation. They can suggest a bigger picture. They can bring shock value. And they can contribute subtext. The visual impact of a prop is its power -- your words are enhanced by props, and sometimes words are unnecessary when using props.

Here are nine ways you can incorporate props into your presentation, including some of my clients' examples that made a great impact in their presentations.

1. Take the audience on an emotional journey.

One of our Santa Barbara Fast Pitch contestants, Kim Davis of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), tells the story of a child who, at the age of six, went into foster care with nothing to her name but a few belongings stuffed into a black trash bag. Kim brings such a bag -- not even half full -- onto the stage. When she lifts that bag into the air, you can imagine the few items of clothing, maybe a small doll or teddy bear, and the sadness of a child without a permanent home. It paints a picture more powerful than words alone.

2. Bring the world to your audience.

I watched a speaker prepare for his presentation a few years ago by putting on layers and layers of clothing. His intention was to take his audience on a trip through history, enhancing his talk by revealing costumes from different time periods as he peeled away the layers. Sure, you could throw some images up on the screen from different time periods. Or you could actually wear the clothing and bring the shapes, textures and colors from another time right into the room where your audience can see it up close and personal.

3. Don't let your props throw you off.

If you've never worked with props before, you might be surprised to discover that things don't always go as you envisioned it. Maybe it takes too long to get your prop out of its container. Maybe the prop is too small and the audience can't see it very well. Maybe your prop makes a big mess that you hadn't anticipated. Maybe your prop is awkward to hold or display.

Always practice your presentation with your props. Don't just imagine how they're going to fit in, but actually pull them out and use them while you're rehearsing. The more you practice with your props, the more naturally they'll fit into your presentation, and you'll have a better idea of how they're going to work in front of a live audience.

4. Make sure your prop is relevant.

I got a kick out of Larry Winget's props when he delivered his keynote on the third night of Be the Change. Some were signs that he had swiped (again, you can put it up on the screen, but a real-life prop can be much more effective) demonstrating his point that "people are idiots," and one was a plunger that he suctioned to his bald forehead. Whatever outrageous prop he pulls out, it's always tied to his message. Can you say the same?

5. Keep it simple.

The simpler it is to use and show your prop, the less distracting it will be to your audience. Like your slides, the prop isn't your presentation; it merely enhances your presentation. Depending on the size of your audience and how far away they are, your prop can be as simple as a book, a magazine, a phone, a vegetable, or a shoe. There's no need for elaborate props -- unless you're, say, Gallagher. Or maybe you're a scientist and you're going to blow things up. Your prop should be able to make your point simply and without a lot of effort.

6. Keep it hidden.

Bob Williams, another Fast Pitch finalist, keeps his "Veggie Rescue" apron hidden under his shirt until the appropriate time in his pitch. Then he rips open his shirt, à la Superman, and reveals it. It's a great moment that always makes the audience laugh. Props work best when they aren't seen until the right moment. The surprise factor is especially effective when you're using your prop for humor. Sometimes it isn't possible to keep your prop hidden, and when your prop is visible, just know that your audience is going to be slightly distracted by curiosity. So if you're using a prop that can't be hidden, at least get to it sooner rather than later. Unless the anticipation is part of your intention. And then, well, let them stew!

7. Be absurd.

If you're using your prop for humor, consider going over the top. That is, if you want the audience to really get it, you might have to be a little larger than life. Here's an example: At a networking event I used to attend, one of the members of the group brought along a box of cables and cords to demonstrate the huge mess that many of us have behind our TVs and other electronics. He dumped it on the table in the middle of the group, and it was funny. But then he mentioned the multiple TV remotes we all have, and suggested that if we have trouble finding them, this one might be a good replacement. And he pulled out the biggest remote I've ever seen. It was hilarious.

Over-the-top enough to get a good laugh. A slightly bigger-than-normal remote just wouldn't have been as funny, even though we would have gotten his point.

8. Help the audience feel the feeling.

In the documentary "Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead," we watch Phil Staples, a morbidly obese truck driver, transform himself into a health-conscious and inspiring role model for other overweight people. Phil becomes so transformed emotionally and physically, he starts giving talks and sharing his story. At one point, he lines up six bowling balls to show the audience how much weight he's lost. I don't know exactly how much those bowling balls weighed, but I can tell you that the thought of wearing those on my body every day, and the thought of trying to move and walk and sleep and sit with those attached to me caused a strong emotional reaction.

I could almost FEEL that weight hanging off of me. It was more than an emotional response; it was a visceral one.

9. Be creative.

I have a lot of clients who come to me from fields like finance, insurance and engineering, who tell me that their topic is boring. They feel completely at a loss as to how to take numbers and data and charts and make their presentations interesting to their audience.

And they're making it way too hard on themselves.

Astronaut and recent International Space Station Commander Colonel Chris Hadfield made many videos from space, explaining a variety of issues astronauts face. One of his videos was about why it's difficult to taste food in space. His props were simple but fun: treats and snacks that had been sent to the ISS by his fellow Canadians.

Think outside the box a bit on what kinds of props would help your audience grasp your message. After watching curling in the Olympics, a teacher here in Santa Barbara devised a way to teach her students the science behind the sport by using Hershey's Kisses and rubber bands. She named the lesson "Curling With Kisses."

Hans Rosling is my favorite example of a speaker whose topics should be boring but aren't because of his creativity. Check out his new "ecological and recyclable version" of the laser pointer in the linked talk.

How will you use props in your next presentation? How are you using them now? Share in the comments!

May 2, 2014

Guest post: Want your presentation to knock 'em dead? Use tips from comedy! by David Nihill

There is a movement beginning. The dividing lines of business and comedy are beginning to blur. Attention spans are shorter than ever. Today’s generation want data delivered with a punch-line. VCs look to invest not in your company but your story. How you tell it makes all the difference.

Here are 9 steps from the world of stand-up comedy to help your message, presentation and company stand out from the noise.

1. Start to Craft a Story

A good story lives forever. Legendary author Maya Angelou said, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Make a bullet point list of funny stories that have happened to you or that you know of and love to tell to friends/colleagues/family. Pick your favourite ones and write them out.

2. Find the Funny

Identify the key funny part to your favourite stories and take out as much as you can. As Shakespeare said "Brevity is levity." You want to get to the joke/funny as quickly as possible. Prune words that don’t make a difference.

List what problem your product or research solves on a general and specific level. Your aim should be to link your presentation topic to your stories, observations and experiences.

3. Apply Joke Structure to your Stories

Take your best stories in their shortest form and apply Basic Joke structure:

1- Set Up (Introduction), 2- Punchline (Laugh line), 3- Taglines (Additional joke lines)

4. Use Comedy Writing Techniques

Use words like "weird," "amazing," "scary," "hard," "stupid," and "crazy" in the joke/story/topic setup and introduction to grab people’s attention.

Use the Bookend Technique: This is where comedians reference their opening joke or story at the conclusion of their show. This gives their performance a feeling of completion and symmetry.

Write using the rule of three: Three is the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern. Information presented in groups of three sticks in our heads better than other clusters of items. For example: "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," "Stop, Look and Listen," "Sex, Lies and Videotape."

5. Rehearsed Spontaneity

How do comedians make it look so spontaneous and unrehearsed? They practice and so should you. This can be done at open mics, meetup groups or through public speaking organizations like Toastmasters. Record and review all practice and rewrite what works best following Joke Structure.

6. On Stage Delivery

Make sure you are fully visible. Often the audience needs to see you fully to trust you.

Practice at home presenting with a bottle in each hand. This gets you accustomed to speaking with your hands out which initially will not feel natural.

Step forward towards the audience to emphasize a punchline or point. Small changes in delivery like raising your voice at the end of a sentence have big impact.

7. Start Strong

Rehearse your opening 30 seconds the most. This you should have tried and tested and should quickly include your 2nd best joke. Like Steve Jobs did, you always want to save the best for last.

Develop a strong opening line. Acknowledge the obvious. If you are visibly nervous, have a fresh stain on your shirt, a foreign accent, if there is anything unusual about you physically that the audience might fixate on the start is the time to address this (get a laugh) and move on so the audience can focus

Smile and make eye contact with as many people as possible. This first 30 seconds is about making your audience like you.

8. Never Run the Clock

Practice your timing. NEVER EVER GO OVER. If there is no time limit impose one on yourself. Ask for a signal light to let you know you have 1 minute remaining. Comedians always have a strong closing prepared and know exactly long it takes to deliver.

9. Control the Audience

Questions: Open/closed depending on how much you want the audience member to speak. Open = Who, When, What, Why, Where, Buy time: Repeat their questions and/or add "That’s a great question." Take time to think before you answer. Watch this hilarious example of why we do this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJfKq_x4bpM

David Nihill was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. After graduating with a Master’s Degree in International Business in 2003, he moved to San Francisco where he worked for the Irish government, helping startup companies expand rapidly; he has been involved with startup companies ever since.

He is the co-founder of FunnyBizz Conferences,  founder of Comedy for a Spinal Cause and the author of the 5 star rated course, 7 Comedy Habits to be a Funnier Speaker. He has performed stand-up comedy at all Northern California’s leading comedy clubs including Cobbs and the Punchline even though he is well aware most people don’t understand his accent.

May 1, 2014

Are you an awkward dork?

Do you identify with any of these: Awkward dork, goofball, character, goober, kook -- or other similar terms that you use to describe your inner weirdo?

If so, join the club!

I've always known I was an awkward dork.

I'm too loud, I put my foot in my mouth ALL the time, I can't pull off cool or smooth or poised to save my life. I'm always the weirdest person in every group, and even among my closest friends, I still feel like a little bit of an alien.

In fact, because my awkward dork goes everywhere with me, I'm also an awkward dork on stage. But I'll tell you what: This has only been GOOD for me. Where other speakers try so hard to "fit in" and be cool and smooth and poised, I've stopped fighting the awkward dork in me, and embraced it.

I'm not interested in fitting in.

I'm not interested in the status quo.

I'm not interested in pretending to be something or somebody I'm not.

How about you? Want to learn how to embrace and celebrate the awkward dork in you?

Then join me on my all-new free teleseminar, "Public Speaking for Awkward Dorks: Embrace Your Dorkiness and Discover Your Inner Superhero!" It's at 1:00 PDT/4:00 EDT on May 22. Click here to read more and to sign up:


Post a hearty YES in the comments if you identify with any of those terms at the top. And if I missed your favorite term for your inner weirdo, please share!

April 22, 2014

The biology of courage: Make stress your friend

Kelly McGonigal says, "How you think about stress matters."

It's a not-very-well-kept secret that a person's attitude toward stress makes a big difference in how they respond in stressful situations. For example, I've written here before that elite athletes rely on that adrenaline rush to propel them to run faster, jump higher and throw farther. If they don't have that adrenaline rush, they don't perform as well.

However, for us "normal" folk, stress mostly feels icky. We don't like it, we try to deny it or squash it, and we don't know how to channel it in a positive way -- and that causes even more suffering.

Kelly McGonigal explains this stress process in your brain and body better than I've ever heard it explained. She talkes about how stress prepares your body to rise to a challenge. Another example of brain/body communication!

She also explains that "stress makes you social." Oxytocin, which is released when you're under stress, is as much a part of the stress response as adrenaline. It's a hormone that makes you crave physical contact, and "motivates you to seek support."

Besides giving stress the respect it deserves in preparing us for an intense or scary situation, she also has great interaction with the audience -- a rare occurrence in TED talks.

Ultimately, she says, "How you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress."

"When you choose to view your stress response as helpful you create the biology of courage."

Watch her talk below, and the next time you're stressing out about a presentation, remember her message, and make stress your friend!

April 16, 2014

Your stats are paralyzing your audience

When you're using statistics in a presentation, it's really easy to get caught up in the numbers. And unfortunately, just because those numbers are meaningful to you, it doesn't mean they're at all fathomable to your audience.

This is why it's important to break down big numbers into manageable and concrete concepts and visuals. Here are two ways to do this:

1. Portion large numbers into smaller bite-size chunks.

I'm working with a nonprofit project right now where 20 nonprofit leaders are getting training and coaching to develop three-minute "fast pitches." The top ten finalists in our competition will go on to an event where they'll be judged, and the winners will be awarded cash prizes. (Read about Fast Pitch here.)

Many of these nonprofits have big numbers: they serve large numbers of people, or they provide large quantities of food to their clients, or they need large sums of money to do their work.

The speakers who are most successful at conveying their numbers are the ones who make the numbers manageable for an audience. For example, asking each person in an audience of 300 to donate $200 a year for the next three years is much more effective than saying, "We need $180,000" and leaving it at that. As an individual who wants to help a local organization, that number is just too big for me. I'm paralyzed by it, and I'm pretty sure my meager $25 check isn't going to make a difference. So I don't write one.

2. Paint a picture, use an analogy or make a comparison, so the large number is equated with something familiar.

This sign above about how much our local zoo's herd of giraffes eats every year paints a vivid picture of how much grain equals 18,000 pounds. This amount of grain is hard to comprehend, but envisioning it as being the weight of a school bus gives me a much clearer perspective. There is no "ask" associated with this particular statistic, but perhaps knowing that my donation would help the zoo acquire a huge mountain of grain might inspire me to give money.

Here's an example I wrote about a few years ago that makes the size of a rocket easily understandable when juxtaposed against two things most of us are familiar with: a football field and the Statue of Liberty.

Many statistics in presentations are just tossed in with no thought to how they will affect the audience or if they will help persuade the audience to do the thing you want them to do as a result of your talk.

First, give more thought to how you are using your statistics and WHY you're using them. And then, when you have a good enough reason to use them, make the effort to create more manageable and concrete numbers for your audience, so they understand how the numbers fit into your overall message -- and are inspired, not paralyzed, by them.

Need some ideas for making your big numbers manageable? Post in the comments!
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